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78-YO Rajasthan Professor’s ‘Superfood’ Farms Have Empowered Local Women Since 1999

Did you know the nutrition in 1 gram of this green superfood is equivalent to eating 1 kg of fruits and vegetables? #Superfood #WomenInScience #Rajasthan

Spirulina, a green superfood, loves only 30 degrees!

Exclaiming this vital piece of information, Pushpa Srivastav, a retired professor from University of Rajasthan, reminisces about her Botany lecture in the summer of 1999 when the noted professor had started the class with this statement to explain about the benefits of spirulina, an organism that grows in both fresh and saltwater.

Today, 20 years later, Srivastav’s love for the green superfood has not subsided and she speaks with the same enthusiasm as she did in that lecture two decades ago.

When Srivastav spoke of a simple technique of growing one of the most nutrient-rich foods in 1999, the Botany Department was impressed, and convinced about her claims of the benefits.

Pushpa Srivastava (second from left) has been growing spirulina since 1999

The simplified technology proposed by her not only was a master-stroke in the world of health but also a ray of hope for the uneducated women residing in the rural areas.

The department granted her Rs 42 Lakh to cultivate the green superfood on 400 square metres of land in a small village of Rajasthan, and thus began Srivastav’s long tryst with spirulina.

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I wanted to focus on the rural women as there were very limited options for women to earn an extra source of income back in those days. Even when I made the project autonomous, there were hardly any organisations who came forward to help financially. My knowledge would be wasted if others do not benefit from it, Srivastav tells The Better India.

Further highlighting the benefits of spirulina, Srivastav claims that it can ease the symptoms of life threatening diseases like HIV, cancer. “Besides, it is also a great medicine for anemia, arthritis, hyperglycemia, diabetes and malnourishment,” she adds.

The professor had collaborated with city health experts, and around 400 patients were observed after spirulina was added to their diet. The results were satisfactory as there were no toxic or side effects, claims Srivastav.  

Spirulina can be grown in summer for it needs sunlight; rainy season can hamper the production.

The alga needs to be cultivated in a pond with iron devices. 3-4 days later, it is filtered, washed and dried into flakes and grounded into powder. Since spirunal is sensitive, the bacteria development is very high. Thus, the production has to be far away from the seaside.

She kicked off the project in Rajasthan’s Burthal village that went on for four years. However, the botany professor wanted to take her knowledge of the non-flowering plant ahead, and help the rural women benefit from it.

Spirulina is empowering rural women in Rajasthan (representational image). Source: Flickr

So, she founded Manjul Spirulina Samwardhan Sansthan and roped in women from the village to continue the activities.

In 2001, the professor launched a similar project in Gujarat with the help from the State government and roped in around 90 women to grow 30 kilos of spirulina every week. “The project took nearly 6 years to transform into an organised business. I handed over the entire production to the honest and hardworking women.”

Presently, around 15 women from Burthal are growing 20 kilos of spirulina on 400 square metres of land provided by the village. They work every day for hours and earn anything between 1,000 to 3,000.

Earlier, there were more women but due to lack of money and manpower I had to let go of a few. Since there is no involvement from the government or any private organisation, it becomes difficult at times to sustain the project, Srivastav, an author of several books on spirulina, says.

The superfood is sold in the form of papad, biscuits, capsules and powder. Srivastav is also in-charge of marketing the products.  

Spirulina can fight several diseases. Source: Flickr

Though Srivastava lives in Jaipur, she travels 35 kilometres twice a week to oversee the production. She also financially helps her employees whenever they are in need.

From convincing the village panchayat to allow women to work, forming her own group to take the project forward and to coping with the financial toll on the production, Srivastava has come a long way since she started out in 1999. There have been several problems but her passion for the green superfood helped her continue the mission.

You cannot leave your child if he gives you troubles. The same way I cannot stop growing spirulina if there is turbulence in between. The rural women have now become my family, and I hope to expand the project and improve the existing infrastructure with the right kind of help, she signs off.


Also ReadInspiring! This Cancer-Stricken Retired Professor’s Words Are Wisdom To Live By


Featured Image Source: Flickr

(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)

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Written by Gopi Karelia

Gopi Karelia, a Mumbaikar, is a die-hard SRK fan, and believes that Grey’s Anatomy is a crash course on life. She finds dancing therapeutic. Her other means of satisfying her soul include travelling solo and exploring new places. She loves articulating human interest stories and has a soft spot for positive journalism.